Important Arbitration Opinion May Impact the Rights of Maryland Nursing Home Residents and Their Families

One of the most controversial topics in Maryland nursing home lawsuits is the applicability and enforcement of arbitration agreements. An arbitration agreement is merely an agreement between parties to submit any disputes that may arise between the parties through arbitration, rather than through the court system.

What Is Arbitration?

Arbitration is a way to resolve claims between parties that does not involve a judge or a jury. Instead, the claim is presented to an arbitrator who hears evidence and arguments from both sides and decides the case.

Arbitration is different from traditional litigation for several reasons, including:

  • the procedural rules governing when a claim must be filed and how quickly the claim is heard are determined by the arbitrator;
  • the rules of evidence that are applied in an arbitration proceeding may be different from the rules that would apply in court;
  • for the most part, an arbitrator’s decision is final, meaning that it cannot be appealed by either party in the event of an unfavorable outcome; and
  • the decisions of an arbitrator are usually kept secret.

Because of these differences – which are traditionally seen as benefitting sophisticated litigants who find themselves in court often – nursing home routinely include arbitration agreements in their pre-admission contracts. A recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court weighs in on a particular issue involving arbitration contracts.

The Case

The case does not involve a nursing home. In fact, it is not even a personal injury case. However, the case does involve an agreement between two parties that included an arbitration clause. That clause stated that it all claims except those involving injunctive relief must be resolved through arbitration. When the plaintiff filed a case in court against the defendant seeking both monetary damages as well as injunctive relief, the defendant moved to compel arbitration. The plaintiff argued that the defendant’s claim of arbitrability was “wholly groundless” because the plaintiff’s case included a claim for injunctive relief, which was explicitly excluded from the arbitration agreement. The trial court agreed and denied the defendant’s request to compel arbitration.

The defendant appealed all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the Federal Arbitration Act applied to “gateway issues” such as the determination of whether arbitration was required in the first place. Thus, because the parties evidenced a “clear and unmistakable” intent to arbitrate all gateway issues, the defendant argued that the trial court was required to send the plaintiff’s case to arbitration for resolution of the gateway issue. If the arbitrator determined that the plaintiff’s claim fell outside the scope of the arbitration agreement, then and only then the plaintiff’s case could be heard by the court.

The Supreme Court agreed with the defendant, holding that a trial court does not have jurisdiction to override an agreement to arbitrate on the basis that the court believes the claim to arbitrability is “wholly groundless.” The court explained that this, and other gateway issues must be presented to the arbitrator for resolution.

Is Your Loved One at Risk?

If you have a loved one in a Maryland nursing home and believe that they may be at risk of experiencing abuse or neglect, you should consult with the dedicated Maryland personal injury lawyers at the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC. At Lebowitz & Mzhen, we have been representing nursing home residents and their families for over 20 years, and have extensive experience handling all types of nursing home claims, including those involving arbitration issues. To learn more, call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Sexual Assault in Maryland Nursing Homes, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, published January 15, 2019.

Criminal Charges Are Not Necessary to Pursue a Claim Against a Maryland Nursing Home for Abuse or Neglect, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, published December 28, 2018.

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